Lesson 5 of 7  - evolve a high-nurturance family

Traits of High-nurturance
and Groups

Is Your Family Functional?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this checklist is http://sfhelp.org/fam/traits.htm

Updated  03-28-2015

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      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on what you'll find in this worksheet. The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven:

      Families and other groups exist to nurture (fill key needs of) their members. Those that nurture ("function") better than others have notable traits. This checklist  provides a way for you to assess for these traits in a family or other social group. If a family is "dysfunctional" (low nurturance), it's kids are at risk of inheriting lethal wounds and unawareness. This is one of several worksheets you can use to help assess for these psychological wounds. 

      This checklist assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons1-5

  • perspective on family relationships

  • Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs"

  • typical kids' developmental needs, and...

  • research on the toxic effects of low-nurturance families

What's a "Healthy" Family?

      How well did your developmental needs get met in your early-childhood family? How well does your present family nurture its adults and kids? Let's define a high-nurturance ("functional" or wholistically-healthy) family as one who’s leader/s consistently...

want to fill the local and long-term physical, spiritual, and psychological needs of all family members equally, and who want to...

intentionally improve their family's social and ecological environments over time.

    Would you change this definition?

       Typical people who grew up in low-nurturance families don’t know what a high-nurturance family looks, feels, and sounds like. To us Grown Wounded Children (GWCs), low family nurturance is normal. If GWCs are asked "Was your birthfamily or childhood ‘pretty healthy?’" most of us will say sincerely "Sure!" - when it wasn’t wholistically healthy at all.

           Many social-science researchers suggest that "functional" (high-nurturance) families, schools, churches, teams, committees, and workplaces have many of the traits below. Did (or does) yours?

    Checklist Directions

Print this checklist, and choose an undistracted time and place to fill it out.

Decide who to rate: your birthfamily, past marriage family, single-parent family, present household or family, school or class, work group, church community, or other group.

Decide specifically who comprises this group: just those people who live or work together now or in the past, or emotionally-impactful absent members, too - including living and dead grandparents and/or other relatives, special friends, and mentors. Next...

Decide who leads the group in calm and stressful times. Other members look to them for guidance and reassurance, and usually follow their decisions.

Pick a time frame: now or in specific earlier (e.g. childhood) years;

Thoughtfully note this family’s or group’s traits. Check each item below that fits well  enough in your judgment. If you're unsure about an item, use "?".

Take your time, note which items give you the strongest emotional reactions, and consider why... ("This item makes me feel __________ because...")

Make notes, underline, or hilight key items. Note that two people can use __  __ this worksheet or you can rate two groups.  Option - for each item, use the second "__" to record how you think someone like your mate or parent would answer.

If someone else could benefit from this and the other wound-assessment checklists, give them a copy or email them the address of this page (above) and/or this Lesson-1 link index.

Option - jot down thoughts, feelings, and questions as you review this checklist. They can be just as important as your answers

If some of these items don’t merit a clear yes or no answer, consider using a scale of one to five to indicate the degree of "trueness" (5) or "falseness." (1).

  • As I get ready to fill out this checklist, I'm aware of...


  • I believe that as far as filling my psychological and spiritual needs, my birthfamily was (check one):

_  very low nurturance /  _ fairly low  /  _  neither  /  _  fairly high  / _  very high nurturance

  • I believe this has had  _ very nourishing  / _ no significant  / _ very harmful effects on my development as a person.

Traits of High-nurturance Families and Groups

      If you're rating a group, substitute "group" for "family," and "leader/s" for "co-parents" below. You can use this checklist to rate someone else's family too - e.g. a mate, parent, or grandparent. Only check an item as "true" "__" if you can check each sub-item "_". Additional traits are shown for typical stepfamilies.

      The first 36 items in this checklist apply to all families, including divorcing biofamilies. The next 10 items add key traits of high-nurturance stepfamilies.


__  __  1)  All family adults are usually guided by their true Self or they are committed to helping each other reduce any significant psychological wounds in themselves and each other.

__  __  2)  All adults discuss, teach, and live from a meaningful family mission or vision statement - i.e. they agree on and intentionally pursue realistic long-range goals for themselves and their descendents.

__  __  3)  All family members feel basically good about themselves and each other - i.e. they have high self and mutual respect ("esteem") most of the time.

__  __  4)  All members usually feel safe to express and assert their current thoughts, feelings, opinions, and needs without fear of being scorned, ignored, attacked, or rejected. This includes feeling safe to disagree with family leaders, supporters, and other members.

__  __  5)  The balance between kids', mates', and whole-family activities is usually satisfying enough to all members.

__  __  6)  Family adults are committed to learning, teaching, and using effective thinking, communicating, and problem-solving skills in and between their homes and with other people.

__  __  7)  Family problems (unmet and/or conflicting needs) are discussed honestly and promptly, and are usually resolved, rather than being denied, ignored, minimized, deferred, debated, or endlessly rehashed.

__  __  8)  Resident adults are clearly and consistently in charge of each family home, without dependents feeling smothered, over-controlled, ignored, or afraid to be themselves. Everyone _ is clear on who is leading the family, and  everyone _ usually trusts the leader/s' decisions.

__  __  9)  Each family member has _ stable bonds with (vs. dependency on) wholistically-healthy friends, and _ regular satisfying activities outside the family (vs. being socially isolated). _ Kids’ and adults’ friends move freely in and out of the family's home, feeling welcomed, valued, and respected by all members; without violating family or individual privacies and boundaries.

      More traits of high-nurturance families and groups...


__  __  10)  All family members usually feel noticed, valued, and listened to (vs. agreed with) by each other, even during conflicts and crises.

__  __  11)  Children usually trust their primary caregivers to _ consistently and genuinely care about their major needs, fears, and hurts; and to _ protect them effectively, vs. minimizing, ignoring, or increasing their needs, fears, and hurts.

__  __  12)  _ Each family child and adult feels safe, appreciated, enjoyed, supported, and respected (i.e. loved) unconditionally enough of the time. _ No one is or was a black sheep or scapegoat. (Take your time with this one!)

__  __  13)  Kids feel that their caregivers and siblings are basically happy and secure enough, regardless of current health, work, financial, security, relationship, or environmental problems.

__  __  14)  _ Household rules and consequences are clear, appropriate, timely, and consistent enough for everybody. _ Child discipline is "firmly flexible." It aims to teach vs. punish (cause pain, guilt, and shame), and is usually enforced consistently, promptly, and lovingly. _ Co-parents are usually united in explaining, modeling, and setting behavioral limits (boundaries), and providing and enforcing consequences.

__  __  15)  Adults _ are usually open to considering constructive feedback and new ideas about family functioning from all family members and knowledgeable others. _ Even when feeling criticized, family leaders are usually able to listen to the upset person/s, vs. attack, defend, explain, ignore, discount, pull rank, or leave.

__  __  16)  _ Genuine (vs. dutiful or manipulative) praise, appreciation, and encouragement are spontaneously exchanged often among all family members and with others. _ Adults and kids are comfortable receiving and acknowledging compliments without discomfort, discounting, and/or false modesty.

__  __  17)  _ Family members feel comfortable exchanging roles (home and family responsibilities) within their abilities - e.g. kids may plan and make some meals, or various people may do the laundry, without excessive griping. _ A steady feeling of spontaneous (vs. dutiful, political, or fear-based) teamwork and co-operation exists most of the time in and between family homes.

__  __  18) _ Individual and family humor, play, and kidding are spontaneous, and have no major hidden agendas or double messages. _ They usually feel balanced enough with serious times to everyone.

__  __  19)  All adults and older kids take _ responsibility and _ credit for their own choices and actions, vs. blaming, mind-reading, denying feeling victimized by, or compulsively ''rescuing'' each other.

__  __  20)  _ The welfare and activities of each family member are usually of real interest and appropriate concern to other members. _ All members are regularly open to discussion and confrontation, without smothering (enmeshment). _ Family integrity and dignity is highly valued by everyone, and _ all members spontaneously feel family commitment, loyalty, and pride (vs. shame, scorn, or indifference), without losing their personal
identity or integrity.

__  __  21)  _ Interpersonal conflict and confrontations happen spontaneously and real-time. _ They're generally supportive, mutually respectful, and constructive, rather than blameful, rageful, shaming, belittling, or manipulative. _ Minor kids can safely confront the adults, as well as the reverse. _ Such confrontations often result in empathic listening and effective problem-solving, vs. justifying, arguing, blaming, explaining, whining, debating, defocusing, counterattacking, condescending, pretending, withdrawing, or ignoring.

__  __  22)  All family adults know how to spot _ values conflicts and _ relationship triangles, and _ they each know how to manage each of these stressors effectively. 

__  __  23) _ There are no major taboos or family secrets (e.g. addictions, miscarriages, abortions, desertions, crimes, job losses, incest, bankruptcies, abuse, illnesses, affairs,...) about the current family or relatives or ancestors. _ There is no un/spoken rule that says "We don't talk about that in our family."

      More traits of high-nurturance families and groups...


__  __  24)  _ All members - specially kids - are encouraged to acknowledge and grieve their physical and invisible losses without shame, guilt, or anxiety. _ Members are consistently comfortable with talking honestly about their losses; openly crying when sad or joyous; sharing despair, when felt; and showing anger (within appropriate limits) at each other, other people, or "life." Knowledgeable observers would say the family lives by a coherent, healthy grieving policy.

__  __  25)  _ The adult caregivers value and actively promote spiritual growth in themselves, each other, and younger members. _ Shared and private spiritual and religious activities consistently yield warmth, serenity, tolerance, hope, compassion, courage, and closeness, vs. shame, guilt, anxiety, dread, scorn, bigotry, elitism, and/or confusion.

__  __  26)  _ Adults can accurately distinguish anger from frustration, and they _ model and promote a healthy ''anger policy'' in and between their homes.

__  __  27)  All family adults are _ clear on the difference between shame and guilt  and _ they all model and teach their kids how to manage both emotions effectively.

__  __  28) _ Family members spontaneously express their love and affection physically within healthy sexual limits. _ Adult sexuality is private, loving, and mutually enjoyed. _ The caregivers consistently and sensitively guide kids to understand, accept, and appreciate their own gender, sensuality, and sexuality within age, family, and societal norms. _ They do this without excessive excitement, shame or guilt. _ All members usually feel comfortable enough to discuss gender and sexual issues with each other.

__  __  29)  _ Family mates prize and maintain their identities and personal boundaries as individuals and as committed, loving couples. They _ consistently rank their relationship second only to personal integrity and wholistic health, and _ they try to balance and enjoy time with the kids, with each other, with relatives and friends, their jobs, and by themselves. _ Co-parents consistently take their primary relationship and co-parenting roles as separate, high-priority concerns - each warranting significant time, thought, integrity, and commitment.

__  __ 30)  _ All family members typically disclose most mistakes, disappointments, and "failures" to each other without undue anxiety, shame, or embarrassment (public shame). _ Most mistakes are viewed as chances to learn, rather than as personal flaws and failures. _ Adults and kids can often laugh at themselves appreciatively, vs. with significant guilt and/or shame.

__  __ 31)  All family members are generally positive and optimistic. Each person usually feels that...

_ most people are basically good, trustworthy, and mean well;

_ life problems may usually be resolved with time and patient, honest effort; and...

_ it's usually OK to ask for help from others and a Higher Power without guilt, shame, or anxiety;

    __  __ 32)  No one in the family is probably or surely addicted to, or regularly over-uses:

_ street ("hard") or prescription drugs

_ TV, sports, computers, or other hobby

_ real or media sex

_ relationships (codependence)

_ fitness, exercise, and health

_ work, studying, or "busy-ness"

_ rage or another emotion

_ acquiring, spending, counting, gambling, investing, or saving money or other assets

_ food (e.g. sugar and fat) and/or eating

_ alcohol, and/or illegal drugs

_ caffeine and/or nicotine

_ conflict or excitement

_ God, worship, or spirituality

_ cleaning and neatness

_ power and control

_ "fairness," "justice," or a social cause

    __  __  33)  _ The family leader/s agree enough on clear, realistic long-term goals for the group, and _ willingly share responsibility for achieve them over time.

    __  __  34)  Each co-parent's own birthfamily had most (e.g. over 20) of these traits.


    __  __  35)  (Add your own trait)


    __  __  36)  (Add your own trait)


          Pause and notice your thoughts and emotions, What are you aware of?

          If you're not in a stepfamily or aren't concerned about someone who is,  go here.

    Healthy-stepfamily Traits

          Typical high-nurturance stepfamilies also have these traits:

__  __  37)  All adults and kids _ accept their identity as a normal stepfamily, and they each _ agree on who belongs.  _ There are no significant inclusion/exclusion conflicts in or between related homes.

__  __  38)  All adults have _ learned and discussed stepfamily basics, and _ have intentionally corrected any misconceptions they had about stepfamily realities. _ They can each "pass" this stepfamily quiz.

__  __  39)  Each divorcing or widowed co-parent _ has no symptoms of unfinished grief from their prior losses; and _ is steadily supporting each minor child as they grieve their own losses from family reorganization/s like divorce, parental re/marriage, and cohabiting.

__  __  40)  Divorcing bioparents have forgiven _ themselves and _ each other, and are _ working effectively to reduce any major relationship barriers. Despite values differences, _ all co-parents share mutual respect and a sense of teamwork in nurturing their minor kids towards adult independence.

__  __  41)  Adults in the co-parents' three or more extended biofamilies have agreed on a cooperative merger plan to combine and stabilize many aspects of their respective families over several years after new mates commit.

__  __  42)  All stepfamily adults are _ aware of typical stepkids' family-adjustment needs, and _ are steadily working to assess and fill these needs effectively together as teammates.

__  __  43)  Disputes over child visitations, custody, activities, education, health, discipline, worship, financial support, names, holidays, and parental responsibilities are _ resolved cooperatively _ without legal action, and _ usually don't recur.

__  __  44)  Co-parents (bioparents and stepparents) _ are intentionally evolving an effective stepfamily support network, and _ are learning how to evaluate stepfamily advice and materials.

__  __  45)


__  __  46)


           Note what you're thinking and how you feel now. What does that mean?


      The more of these traits a family or group has consistently, the higher its nurturance level (functionality) and wholistic health. Conversely, the fewer of these traits in a given family, classroom, church, organization, or team, the harder it is for some or most members to get their primary needs met well enough, often enough.

       Before healing, psychologically-wounded people will usually minimize or deny that their family had too few of the traits above, Knowledgeable friends and professionals would disagree.

If you rated your birthfamily...

  • Consider discussing your conclusions with any surviving childhood caregivers, siblings, and/or relatives for added perspective;

  • Reflect on the effects the items not checked have had on (a) your personality, (b) your relationships, (c) your kids, if any; (d) your job/s and career, and (e) your wholistic health.

  • Compare your trait-profile with your current family's traits, and ponder significant similarities and differences.

  • If you are (or were) in a committed relationship, compare your birthfamily's traits to your partner's childhood-family traits.

If you rated your prior-marriage family...

  • Consider discussing the worksheet with your ex-mate and/or (older) children for their awareness, input, and insights;

  • Use the results and this worksheet to increase your awareness of any significant unfinished divorce issues;

  • With these traits in mind, review these worksheets on typical minor kids' developmental and adjustment needs, and meditate on how your family nurturance level affected your kids personality, growth, learning, health, and behavior;

  • Consider the likely effects on your child/ren and descendents of those items not checked, and discuss this with your "ex" and/or relevant others;

  • Use the latter as guidelines in setting current co-parenting and counseling goals to strengthen and heal your child/ren. See lesson 6 here.

Options If you rated your present family...

  • Congratulate your subselves, present partner, and your respective ancestors on the traits you checked!

  • Use unchecked traits as guidelines for revising family or parenting behaviors, priorities, or therapy goals, Use this self-improvement course as a resource.

  • Rate and compare your and your partner's respective childhood families, and discuss any patterns and implications.

  • Using your results as input to making and using a mission statement and co-parenting job descriptions for your home and family.

  • If you're in a stepfamily, study and discuss Lesson 7.

If you rated your ex or present mate's family...

       Premise - typical psychologically-wounded, unaware adults unconsciously tend to recreate their childhood-family's nurturance level, despite conscious vows not to. If checklist blanks outnumber checks (strengths)...

  • With these traits in mind, reflect on why you chose this partner,

  • if you and/or a partner have significant personal or relationship problems, use your findings here to help decide whether or not to assess this partner for psychological wounds (low childhood nurturance promotes them). See Lesson 1.

  If you rated your work, church, school, or other group...

      Substitute "group" for family, and "leader/s" for "caregivers, parents, and adults" in the above items. Most non-parenting traits apply to the nurturance level of any group of people. Options -

  • assess the nurturance levels of the elementary and high schools you spent almost one third of your childhood days in, and reflect on how this affected your development and adult-life quality;

  • rate the influence of any churches you attended as a child. Their psychological and perhaps spiritual influence significantly shaped your personality subselves, specially if it amplified the influence of your home/s!

+ + +

           As I finish this checklist, I'm aware of...


    and I now believe that as far as psychological and spiritual nurturance, my birthfamily was (check one):

very low nurturance  /  _ fairly low  / _ neither  /  _ fairly high  / _ very high nurturance

and that this has had...

 _ very growthful  / _ very harmful  / _ no significant effects on me as a person, mate, and/or parent.

       Thoughts / Notes



      This Lesson-5 checklist builds on the idea that families and other human groups exist to nurturer (fill the needs of) their members. Based on 36 years' clinical research, the checklist provides a set of traits common to typical high-nurturance ("functional") families and groups to assess how effective a family or group is at filling its members' needs. The checklist concludes with several options and suggestions for using your results.

      For more perspective, also see these typical traits of members of a high-nurturance family or group.

    + + +

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or someone else?

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